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Fuji Ya

By Lavender December 16, 2010

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Serving Superlative Japanese Cuisine for More Than a Half-Century

Though Fuji Ya has been around in some form since 1959, it remains one of the hippest local eateries. At its Minneapolis location, the interior walks the line between slick and inviting. Escapist without being kitschy, it is appropriate for anything from a first date to a business lunch. Known for its sushi, it also offers traditional Japanese entreés to please a finicky Midwestern diner.

I am no Andrew Zimmern (I do draw the line somewhere before lamb eyeball), but I have sucked down fried tendon, which was absolutely delicious. So, whether it’s eel, yellowtail, or mackerel, adventurous sushi chefs pretty much can count me in. Also, since Thanksgiving, I absolutely have been drowning in Minnesotan heavy cold-weather cuisine, so I was looking forward to something different. Traditional Japanese fare is lighter and easy on the stomach—comfort food, redefined.

Black Topiko, Ikura Slamon Roe, Wasabi Topiko, Masago, Topiko, Aji. Photos by Hubert Bonnet

However, one still needs a little something to warm the bones, and our waiter was Johnny on the spot with a Hendricks sake-tini ($9.25). This refreshing cocktail also can be made with vodka if you prefer, but with the infused Hendricks, this cucumber-kissed beauty is subtle, smooth, and dangerously drinkable.

My dining partner, who is not swayed so easily, instantly made a grab for the extensive sake list, which is befitting of the Twin Cities’s first Japanese restaurant. Our waiter explained that long ago, samurai would complain of being cheated unless their sake cups literally were filled to overflowing. Fuji Ya maintains that long-standing tradition. A little saucer is placed beneath the cup to catch the significant excess. It seems like such a waste of excellent sake, but I’m just guessing even a thirsty samurai would consider it gauche to lap from the saucer.

From the sake list, we first tried Shichi Hon Yari ($25/bottle), which has a pleasant earthiness, and was wonderful with our appetizers; next, Wakatake Onikoroshi ($16/$75), which is subtly fruity; and finally, Ohyama ($10/$110), which is playful and refreshing, and perhaps my favorite of the three.

Now that I have mentioned the generous pours, I must put my readers on a two-sake maximum, if you still are trying to impress someone with your savage wit. You heard me, lovelies! This little samurai, who couldn’t have fought her way out of a Kowalski’s bag when it was all said and done, was eating like a starved tiger. You simply will have to return multiple times if you wish to try more sake—lucky for you, the fare also is worthy of making a habit of it.

When visiting Fuji Ya, on the hot appetizer list, do not overlook Asparagus ($7.95), which is sautéed in a ginger sauce. Among all the dishes boasting exotic and mysterious names, this little plain-Jane-sounding dish is a surprise knockout.

Kama Hama ($8.95) followed. It is grilled yellowtail cheek. A long-established Japanese delicacy, it is a substantial dish—almost intimidating, really—but our server encouraged us just to attack it boldly with our chopsticks, and mind the bones. A few jabs and pinches later, a succulent morsel indeed was mine. The flavorful fish is served with its traditional and appropriately-assertive partner, ponzu shoyu sauce.

Next, the sushi chefs created an exuberant platter of different preparations of mackerel ($12.95-$19.55), followed by a maki plate trussed up in colorful, spicy roe ($22-$28). Oh, heaven! Excellent sushi always makes me wonder why we ever bother with cooking. Then, my unasked question was answered. Our mackerel platter came with a cheerful-looking fish that happened to be impaled on two sticks, hovering above its raw brethren. Our server explained that this beauty quickly can be fried to a crisp, and then eaten like a big fat fish chip. Yes, please! Our fishy friend was whisked away, and soon after, we enjoyed a very crunchy and unexpected treat.

One doesn’t always think of dessert at a Japanese restaurant. Now, after dining at Fuji Ya, I wonder why this is so. We were served Strawberry Ice Cream Mochi—delicate ice cream balls (often green tea-flavored) covered in sticky rice. My dining partner, who had spent considerable time in Japan, marveled at how authentic Fuji Ya’s mochi is. I take her at her word. It was served with green tea ice cream, plus, for a special seasonal treat, a little bit of chocolate ice. Unfortunately, I only could manage a little bit of this rare wonder, so I will have to go back to enjoy it more fully another time. I’m sure dedication is part of the samurai code, but to be perfectly honest, I will be returning purely for pleasure. Heidi Fellner

Fuji Ya

600 W. Lake St., Mpls.

(612) 871-4055

465 Wabasha St., St. Paul

(651) 319-0111

www.fujiyasushi.com

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